NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic, in his previous 10 straight runs to U.S. Open semifinals, had never heard an opponent utter what John Millman said midway through their quarterfinal Wednesday night.
“I don’t know what to do now, I can’t stop sweating,” Millman told Djokovic at the net between games, the Serbian leading 6-3, 2-2 on another muggy night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I don’t want to change now, but … ”
Djokovic interrupted the plea.
“I get you, and I’m soaked, too, go ahead,” he said. “I’m fine to have a little rest.”
And so Millman left the court in the middle of his first Grand Slam quarterfinal — at the advanced age of 29 — to put on new clothes and shoes. The request was even more unusual because Millman didn’t wait until after the set, or even after one more game to do it during a changeover.
So strange that the U.S. Tennis Association deemed necessary to explain the allowance in a press release before Djokovic finished the 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win just before midnight.
“The chair determined that the surface was dangerous enough to invoke the ‘Equipment Out of Adjustment’ provision in the ITF Duties and Procedures for Officials and allowed Millman to go off court to change clothes/shoes,” the release stated. “Both players agreed that he should do so. Because the chair umpire deemed the situation within the ‘Equipment Out of Adjustment’ provision, Millman was not charged with an official change of attire or bathroom break.”
Djokovic sat as Millman changed, shirt off, arms bent behind his head, towel wrapping his waist, grinning as if enjoying Coney Island beach.
“You don’t stop sweating, though,” the Australian said of the six-minute break. “You go to this little holding room just off the court, and there’s a tiny, probably, like, three-by-three room, even less, and you’re just dripping. The sweating doesn’t stop.”
U.S. Open Semifinals
(17) Serena Williams vs. (19) Anastasija Sevastova: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
(14) Madison Keys vs. (20) Naomi Osaka: Thursday, after Williams-Sevastova
(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (3) Juan Martin del Potro: Friday
(6) Novak Djokovic vs. (21) Kei Nishikori: Friday
Temperatures were mild compared to earlier in the tournament — 70s — but the humidity was as punishing as the two veterans’ groundstrokes.
The USTA has made near daily announcements of extreme-heat provisions the last 10 days, including allowing players to leave the court after three sets for 10-minute breaks (after two sets for women’s matches).
“I’m not normally like the biggest sweater. But I don’t know. I was really sweating,” Millman said. “I’d play in a swimming pool if I got to play a quarterfinal, you know, every week at a Grand Slam.”
Djokovic, known for being perhaps the fittest player on tour, said he’s bringing at least 10 shirts for every match here. The conditions are so brutal, he noted, that he saw unflappable Roger Federer sweat like never before in his fourth-round loss to Millman in the same night-time setting at Ashe.
“I personally have never sweat as much as I have here,” Djokovic said after advancing to play Japan’s Kei Nishikori in his 11th straight U.S. Open semifinal. “It feels like sauna.
“I asked the chair umpire whether they are using some form of ventilation or air conditioning down at the court-level side, and then he says that he’s not aware of it, that, you know, only what comes through the hallway type of thing. I think that this tournament needs to address this. I mean, because whether it’s night or day, we just don’t have air down there.”
Djokovic, has made the U.S. Open semis every year since 2007 (with two titles among his 13 total Grand Slam trophies), excluding last year when he missed the event with an elbow injury.
Earlier Wednesday, Nishikori ousted No. 7 Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in a rematch of the 2014 U.S. Open final won by Cilic. That marked Nishikori’s deepest Grand Slam run.
Djokovic is enjoying a resurgent summer, taking his fourth Wimbledon title to end a two-year Grand Slam title drought.
He then won the Cincinnati Masters leading into the U.S. Open, entering as a co-favorite with top-ranked Rafael Nadal despite being ranked sixth. Nadal gets No. 3 Juan Martin del Potro in the other semifinal.
Also Wednesday, Japan’s Naomi Osaka and American Madison Keys each won in straight sets to set up the second women’s semifinal.
The Osaka-Keys winner gets either Serena Williams, eyeing her record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, or Latvian Anastasija Sevastova (a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist) in Saturday’s final.
Osaka is the only woman left in the draw who has beaten Williams.
Wednesday was historic for Japan, which put a man and woman into the semifinals of the same Grand Slam for the first time.
Nishikori and Osaka are among the 2020 Olympic host nation’s most popular active athletes, a list topped by Shohei Ohtani followed by more baseball players.
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